Friday 17 August 2018

Jaipur take 2.

I was last in Jaipur in 2013 (5 years ago!!). During my first proper trip to India. Backpacking. Hot. Dirty. Never feeling clean. Tired. No sleep on sleeper trains. But loving every minute.

This time, a bit different.

I landed on Friday evening late, around 11pm.

I’m staying close to the airport this evening – at the Lalit. I took a government taxi from the pre-paid taxi stand (always very easy and quick!) for 300 Rp (about £3).

The hotel was so disappointing. My room was loud. And the bed uncomfortable. It was meant to be a 5 star hotel (ok, so it was very cheap). But not impressed.

Saturday 18 August 2018

Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan. I love Rajasthan and haven’t been back here since 2013. All the chaos. And all the colour. In saying that, I don’t remember liking Jaipur last time (it was probably my least favourite city during that trip). But I’m giving it another go, as there were places I missed as they were closed for renovations.

Jaipur began construction in 1727. Then in 1876 one of the Maharaja had the entire Old City painted pink to welcome King Edward VII. It is now a law that the buildings must be maintained in a pink colour.

After a night of terrible sleep, I headed out for a walk to the nearby roundabout.

As soon as I stepped outside I was sweating. Dripping in sweat. It was so hot.

The Patrika Gate at Jawahar Circle is an elaborate pink building, which forms the gate to the park on the roundabout. You wouldn’t have thought it was something to visit. Until you walked into it.

The inside passage way is completely full of brightly coloured paintings and carvings, coverings all the walls and ceilings. It’s really cool. And has become a bit of an Instagram destination. Everyone there was all doing the same thing – trying to get a perfect photo of themselves.

After some breakfast, I got an Uber and headed up into the city. And to my next hotel. (Where I actually wanted to stay, but they had no availability yesterday).

It was a long drive and took about half an hour. The city is large. The edge of the city is poor. Lots of people sitting outside their one-room houses on broken chairs. Market stalls lining the streets. All selling a selection of fruits, vegetables and flowers.

For the rest of the weekend I’m staying in the Gangapole area. We drove through the gangapole city gate – a pink-walled area, again full of makeshift stalls and cows. Later in the day, I wanted to come back up here to wander around. But the security at the hotel told me not to. I was going to ignore him. But once I reached the road, there was another security man who wouldn’t let me walk that way down the road.

I’m staying at a haveli. An old house of a rich family. Which has been converted into a hotel. It’s amazing. Flower-filled courtyards. Arches everywhere. Small passageways leading into more pretty courtyards. Small windows looking out onto lawns. So pretty.

After dumping all my bags (and a welcome lime juice),I headed back out into the heat.

I got an Uber up to Amber. Which is famous for its fort.

The town of Amber is 11km north of Jaipur and was the original capital of Rajasthan. Construction of the fort begun in 1592. But the capital later moved down to Jaipur.

I’ve been here before. But this time I wanted to go into the small town behind the fort. Here are streets packed with temples and the Panna Meena Stepwell.

This stepwell has become rather famous over the past year or so. The steps form such a cool pattern, cascading down into the water below.

You used to be able to walk down into it. But now the security all around blow whistles at anyone who so much as approaches the edge.

I popped into a few temples whilst I was here. Long sets of stone steps leading upwards to elaborately carved stone statues and rooms.

I hadn’t planned on visiting the fort again. But whilst I’m here….!

I was at the back of the fort. There is a steep, winding road which heads up to a back entrance.

It’s expensive to enter – 1,500rupees for a ‘combo ticket (£15. which also allows you entrance to a few sights in Jaipur city.

The fort is made from pale yellow and pink sandstone and white marble. Different areas are different colours. It’s just like I remember. But a lot more people.

I was too hot. There were too many people. I had ran out of water and my mood was rapidly declining. I had spotted some water shops in the main courtyard, so hurried back to that area.

I tried to get an Uber to leave Amber. But there were none around.

So I had to negotiate a fare with a tuk tuk. He said he was going to take me to Nargarth fort, then back into the city. Which is what I wanted.

The fort was disappointing. They had turned it almost into a theme park. There was a vegan food court though! There was no phone signal up here, so I wasn’t exactly sure what a lot of things on the menu were. I ordered something random. Turns out it was chickpea curry with poori. (That’s definitely not what it was called!). It was good. Shame they had ran out of masala chai.

It was rather lucky that I had a driver waiting for me to take me back down. As I wouldn’t have been able to order an Uber up here (with no signal). But just when I thought this tuk tuk had been too easy, he started to negotiate a new fare for taking me back.

By ‘city’ he hadn’t meant city. He apparently meant the water palace. Which is a good 15 minute drive from the city walls. And wanted to charge extra for going any further. Out of principle I refused (although it would have made my life a lot easier to just pay him more….). So he dropped me off at the water palace. Then started demanding a tip.

Here it was chaotic. I had people grabbing me. Demanding money. Chasing me down the street.

There was a busy food market at one end, so I hurried down there, hoping that the hassle might stop. And it did.

But now I had to order another Uber.

Thankfully it was easy. And one turned up shortly later. And he was so nice. He was warning me to be careful in the city – apparently there are lots of scams at the moment.

I had planned on heading into the city to wander around. But it was now 3pm. I was too hot. And too annoyed to do anything more! So I went back to the hotel. To the pool.

For dinner, I got room service. They made me a vegan thali. It was all delicious. But far too much food!

Sunday 19 August 2018

I was woken a few times by the call to prayer. As soon as I stepped out of my room, the smell of India hit me. It seems more prevalent here – a mix of incense, spices, flowers and heat.

Breakfast was amazing. Set in an elaborate dining hall. Of course I had the Indian options – curries with roti.

It was threatening to rain when I headed out. Even still, it was boiling hot.

My first stop was the city palace. I didn’t go here last time. And I have no idea why. We were right next to it. Perhaps we just didn’t have time. Or maybe it was closed.

The city palace, or Jal Mahal, was built in 1799 by Madho Singh as a summer resort for the royal family, which they used to base duck-hunting parties.

I had to buy another entrance ticket (not covered on the city ‘combo’ ticket).

The first courtyard wasn’t very exciting. But after heading through an elaborate gate, you are into the main courtyard. A world of pink. Everything is pink. It was so pretty. In the middle of the courtyard was an open building of arches. Under these arches were some large silver urns – the largest in the world.

I walked around and around in circles. Admiring.

I kept being stopped for photos. At one point I had a queue and it was getting out of hand. So for the first time ever, I started to say no. There were plenty of other white people they could ask.

There was another alleyway you could walk down. The first time I tried, the men standing there in outfits (wanting you to pay them to take a photo of them) were really hassling me. So I almost didn’t go down the alleyway.

But after getting a bit of confidence and just walking past them, it was lucky I had. Through here was a further courtyard. With 4 doors. All elaborately carved and painted. One to represent each season.

Most people were only concerned with the peacock door. And you had to pay a man to be able to take a photo of that one (!). So I didn’t bother, and took some pictures of another one instead.

My favourite place in Jaipur last time was the Jantar Mantar, an observatory which was built by Jai Singh in 1728. Lots of stone instruments that can tell you the time, the seasons, the month and point to stars. I wasn’t going to visit, but since it was free (because I already had a combo ticket!), I popped in. Was just as cool as before. So clever that this was built hundreds of years ago.

I got a bit lost when leaving. I headed out a different direction and through alleyways of pink shops. They were starting to open for the day. This end was mostly hardware – metal tools and kitchen items.

Then it started to rain. But not too much. I made it to the Hawa Mahal. The palace of winds. A pink sandstone building that looks like a honey comb. It was constructed in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh to enable ladies of the royal household to watch the life and processions of the city.

Inside, walkways spiralled upwards so you could visit each floor. And look out onto the street through tiny door-like windows. The walls were so elaborately carved.

By now it had really started to rain. Not just a little bit. Torrential. Could hardly see the other side of the road.

I waited in the palace for a while. But I’m impatient. So I continued to make my way along the walkways. They were mostly undercover, but were filling up with poeple to the point where you could almost not move.

Everyone’s attitude seems to change in the rain. Instead of trying to sell me things, people were helping me to get out of the rain and just wanting to have a chat. Very strange.

I was stuck for around half an hour. Under a piece of tarpaulin. The road had turned into a river.

Once the rain had stopped, I headed in the direction of the jewellery shops. There was a cafe down here that I wanted to visit. I had lunch – a vegetable curry. And by the time I headed back outside, the ground was dry, the sky was blue and it was like the rain had never happened!

After a while wandering around the link coloured shops, time to head back to the hotel, then off to the airport.

I loved my second stay in Jaipur. Almost everything I did was completely different to last time I was here. I still maintain that Uber is transformational in solo-girl travel around India. You no longer have to have small change (because a taxi/tuk tuk driver will never admit to having change). And no longer have to enter into price negotiations, only for the rules to change half way through a journey. It makes everything so much more accessible and alleviates a lot of stress from travelling around.

The airport as disappointing. No food. So I had a masala lemonade (ok, but probably not again!).

I caught a plane to Delhi. Ready to head home the next day.

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